It takes a few days before you can really “get” Thailand. Hell, maybe I still don’t get it; I’ve only been here ten days. The culture is so weird and wonderful that the locals probably don’t get it either; they are quite possibly as bewildered, amazed, and sometimes, dismayed, as we. If you head out to the sticks, somewhere between Thailand’s ancient Siamese roots and the modern west, you can probably catch a glimpse of normal life in a culture you’ve never known. But here on the hotel strip, as much of a ‘city’ as the little isle of Samui can muster, Thai culture is just a gross caricature of western culture.
Everything you see and do here has been built for the amusement of tourists. Sure, Thai people need clothes, food, internet connections, art, watches, GameBoy games, trinkets, carved soap, taxis, massages, guns, knives, DVDs, clothes, food, internet connections, clothes, clothes, and food as much as the rest of us… but I doubt they need all those things every fifty feet. And strangely, I’ve found that the longer you stay here the less of it you notice. After a week of daily walks down Beach Road —children and mongrel dogs underfoot, the smell of open sewage making only the occasional assault on your olfactory senses— you don’t even hear the cab drivers honking at you any more. The cycle–taxi boys, parked by the side of the road and waiting for a fare, don’t catch your gaze; most of the time they don’t even ask if you need a ride anymore, they can tell by your tan and the state of your hair that you’ve been here more than five minutes. When your eyes aren’t so wide and wandering, when your mouth isn’t so agape, when you aren’t wearing clothes so painfully out of sync with the humidity and heat that you look like a moron even to the other tourists, they know that you know the score; you’ll ask for a taxi when you damned well need one. The tailor doesn’t shout numbers at you any more, trying to guess your height, and he doesn’t ask for a handshake every time you walk by. The massage–parlor gals don’t chant “massaa massaa, you wan massaaa” at you from their doorway. The hookers, well, the hookers still yell. But at least they’ve stopped grabbing your ass.
And what a place this is for prostitutes. If you’re in your mid–fifties, divorced, balding, fat, white, and English, chances are I’ve already seen you riding down the street with your bitches in tow. That goes double if you have a lot of tattoos, and triple if you had those tattoos done here in Thailand (keep the hepatitis, it’s free). Hey, I’m not going to judge you if your only reason for flying to Thailand was the cheap poontang —I’m really only here for the cheap massages and the cheap beer— but for Christ’s sake man have some cojones! Do you have any idea how many nubile Swiss girls there are by the pool? If you like boobs you’re in freakin’ boobie central. Ask them out, they’re free! But chances are if you’re headed for a by–the–hour motel on the wrong side of town that you’re not interested purely in boobs. Or conversation, even. And for a country with only one official language, the shopkeepers, waitresses, and, yes, hookers of Thailand have learned a great deal about communicating past language barriers.
Tourists here hail from all corners of Europe, China, Japan, the US, and Australasia; and despite the variety of languages to deal in, business continues unhindered. The average shopkeep communicates in the international language of numbers, his translator a calculator. You point to something you like, he punches out a price, you shake your head and punch in a new price, he shakes his head, and you continue until a settlement is made; it’s an oddly comfortable way to bargain. I can only imagine how the salesman at my local trinket–store would deal with a customer speaking in a completely foreign tongue… he’d probably keep talking, just really loud and really slow.
If you have a chance to snorkel on Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan, do it. It’s quite possibly the most fun I’ve had while I’ve been here, aside from the lying by the pool reading the Da Vinci Code and Life of Pi stopping only for food and coconut–oil massages. To snorkel around in the warm clear water with hundreds of beautiful and colorful fish within arm’s reach is just breathtaking. To have tiny fish nibble at your hands and feet, following you from place to place like pilot fish cleaning a shark, is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and it’s tough to smile with a snorkel in your gob.
The full moon party on Koh Pha Ngan is what you might’ve expected Leavers to be like (or Schoolies, or Spring Break, or whatever) when you were seventeen… the main difference being that there weren’t nightclubs opening onto the sand at Leavers, there weren’t bars on the beach dispensing buckets of vodka and Red Bull, and there weren’t ten thousand people dancing bumper to bumper on a long strip of white sand until sunrise. It’d be more fun with a girl of course, and my girl is back in Australia, so I’ve just had to make do with Scotty.
Tomorrow morning, though, I say my goodbyes to Scotty–Chan–the–man–with–the–plan and bid him good luck for his life in England. Amusing, considering he hates the English, but sad nonetheless. We’ll board our respective planes, his headed for Heathrow Airport and mine for Perth International, and go our separate ways. It’s been fun here in Thailand, but I had to head back to Perth some time. It’s home, after all, and I miss it.